Unfulfilled rage: When Terry Labonte sought revenge vs. Dale Earnhardt

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“Didn’t mean to really turn him around, meant to rattle his cage, though.”

It’s been almost 20 years since Dale Earnhardt, with a towel wrapped around his neck and a grin on his face, uttered this iconic phrase in Victory Lane after the 1999 Wintson Cup night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Not grinning was NASCAR’s “Iceman” – Terry Labonte after Earnhardt knocked him out of the lead on the final lap, sending Labonte’s No. 5 Chevrolet spinning and into the inside wall while Earnhardt headed for his ninth win at that track.

Four years after a similar ending in the 1995 race, the accident sent fans into an angry uproar directed at Earnhardt. If Labonte, known for his calm demeanor, had gotten his way after the checkered flag, it would have resulted in a real-life version of a scene from Days of Thunder.

“He might be going to Victory Lane, but that No. 5 is going to be stuck in that side of that thing,’ ” Labonte said he thought.

But his Kellogg’s Chevrolet betrayed him at the last moment.

Labonte recounted his side of the infamous race Sunday night when he was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame.

The build up to Labonte’s boiling point began with about 10 laps to go. While leading the race, the two-time Cup champion was spun for the first time that night.

Here’s what Labonte had to say.

“I look up and my brother (Bobby Labonte) is running around on the apron, leaking oil on the apron. I thought, ‘What is he doing? Get off the track.’ Sure enough, here comes the caution flag. … I remember it like it was yesterday. I was coming through (Turns) 3 and 4, the caution is out. I was fixing to lap Brett Bodine. I went, ‘I don’t want to lap him again.’ So I slowed up here so I don’t put him another lap down. All of sudden, somebody, my buddy Darrell Waltrip, runs in the back of me and spins me out. Nobody remembers that part. That started a chain of events right there.

“So I’m sitting here backwards, right? And I thought, ‘What in the world happened? He just spun me out.’ So here comes Dale by, here comes everybody else by. … Well, Dale was pitting on the back straightaway so everybody thought he stayed out, but he really didn’t stay out because he had to wait until he could go around to the back straightaway.

“So a bunch of guys didn’t pit. I got my car cranked and took off. So we’re the last car on the lead lap. It’s only seven cars or so. I came down pit road, put on four tires. When you have four tires at Bristol and everybody else doesn’t have tires, you look like a hero, you know?”

(The race restarted with five laps to go.)

“I was coming through there, I was passing everybody and got to Dale on the last lap. We bumped a little bit coming off (Turn) 4 and went down into (Turn) 1. I kind of had a bad angle. My car bottomed out and Dale hit me. Spun me out.

“I said, ‘Sh….shoot.'” *laughter* I was spinning down the back straightaway. The car’s nosed into the wall there. I thought, ‘Man, I cannot believe this.’ I can hear the crowd yelling. I mean the crowd was yelling. … I looked up and I see that No. 3 coming off Turn 2 after he got the checkered. This is the part, people after that race said, ‘Man, you were so cool. How’d you did do that? You were so cool. You just got wrecked and you were just so calm and everything.’

“Well, the story was…I had my car, I cranked it back up. When I see the 3 coming, I thought, ‘You know what? He might be going to Victory Lane, but that No. 5 is going to be stuck in that side of that thing.'”

*laughter*

“I had that timed perfect. It was perfect. I had it in reverse and here he comes. Man, I revved it up and popped the clutch on that thing and it tore the reverse gear out of it after it went about three inches. I just got out and I said, ‘Oh, shoot,’ again. Walked to my trailer and changed clothes and went home.”

The race, along with the 1995 version, are now honored with banners in the Bristol grandstands commemorating the track’s history.

Watch the ending of the 1999 race in the video above as Labonte recounts his tale below.

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.